For the last several years I have travelled to New Mexico each summer to attend a golf outing with a dozen or so other churchly types. We have lessons each morning from a couple of nationally-know PGA officials who have become important friends. In the afternoons we have played the fine courses in that part of the world. After supper there have been important discussions. These folks are all serious people whose lives have been and are involved in critical political and societal concerns.
I did not take up golf until I was in my early 70s, thinking that the exercise would get me away from my desk and thus contribute to a more well rounded retirement. I have enjoyed every round I have managed to play throughout the year here in southern California, but I have never become a golf fanatic. Neither have I become very good at the game. While I never did hit a very long ball, I usually ended on the fairway instead of in the rough, the woods the ravines, the desert or the lakes. Not hitting very far has its advantages.
When asked about how my game has improved, I have chuckled and replied that at my age not getting any worse was all I could expect. But given a serious diminution in energy and a few other physical problems, it became clear that these much dearly loved New Mexico golf trips had come to an end. So last year, at the end of the week, I told the group I would not be returning. Nevertheless against my better judgment, this year, during the first week in August, I found myself again at the desert monastic setting we use as our base of operations. I didn’t play much during the week but enjoyed the group — as always — and shared by leading the evening discussions. I will still play an occasional nine holes here in Claremont, but will miss the yearly sortie in the desert.
I have come up with a metaphor for my diminished golfing ability. I call it “hitting out of the rough.” When you are off the fairway and into the taller grass, the game becomes even more challenging. It takes a stronger, more accurate swing to lift the ball out of whatever unfortunate lie your ball has found. Perhaps now in my mid-eighties the rough seems even deeper (my age not my scores!). Golf is not the only place where the shots I must make are from a more troublesome lie. Simple tasks take longer to get to and longer to complete — like cleaning off my cluttered desk, getting these weekly columns out, remembering everyone’s name. But these limitations come with the territory.
It has occurred to me that President Obama has had to conduct his entire presidency hitting from the rough. I recently read a thoughtful book by Arthur Brooks, the President of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Brooks’ thesis is that the problem with the Republican Party is not the position it takes on a variety of issues, but its inability to find a more positive language with which to sell what many of us believe to be an inferior product. Along the way he makes the point that President Obama has failed to accomplish what he promised. Of course Brook’s conclusion is accurate. What he ignores is the condition under which the President has been forced to operate.
From the day of his inauguration on, the Republicans have sought to derail, ridicule and turn back everything the President has tried to do. Not only did they once close down the government, they have continually fought The Affordable Care Act, and now are attempting to scuttle the effort to come up with a doable solution to the Iran issue. At every turn they have forced him to hit out of the rough. And when he has hit the ball straight down the fairway, by the time he gets to it, it has been kicked into the weeds.
With the base of this conservative opposition in the solid south, one wonders what part racism plays in the negative strategy. The recent controversy over the rebel battle flag has made me wonder if there still runs through these states a hesitancy to support a black President. Recall that the GOP took over every former Confederate state the year after Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.
I maintain the hope that next year we will elect a new progressive President who will hit some solid shots. Maybe a new Congress will make the fairways just a bit wider, and the rough a bit friendlier.